The Oval bandstand project ‘brought to stand-still’ in row over release of Margate Town Deal funding

Lots of work has been carried out at The Oval site but Grass has now had the grant withdrawn (Photo via The Oval Bandstand FB page)

The organisation working on the regeneration of The Oval Bandstand and Lawns in Cliftonville as part of the £22.2million Margate Town Deal says the project has been ‘put on hold’ due to Thanet council not releasing the funds in a disagreement over the grant agreement.

Grass (Gordon Road Area Street Scheme) Cliftonville was allocated £500,000 from the town deal in 2021 but, despite carrying out major works, the group is still waiting for £475,000 of the grant to be released.

The delay has resulted in project leaders Stephen Darrer and Simon Bell saying they will find funding elsewhere and Stephen resigning his role on the Margate Town Deal board, which was set up to oversee the scheme.

In September 2019 Margate was announced as one of 100 towns across the country that would receive investment from the government’s Town Deals Fund.

In March 2021 a £22.2million grant was confirmed following the submission of a Town Investment Plan by Thanet council working with the newly created Margate Town Deal board.

The plan outlined four themes for spending the funding. Included in those initial plans was the  £500,000 allocation for The Oval Bandstand and Lawns which had previously been taken on by Grass Cliftonville in an asset transfer deal from the council.

Simon Bell and Stephen Darrer with plans for The Oval Bandstand in 2022

In February 2022 Simon and Stephen were among those to display their town deal plans at a Turner Contemporary pop-up.

The proposal was to build a Pavilion at the site, to include training and education, reconfigure the bandstand area so it is a 360 space – a “theatre in the round”- which would mean moving the toilet facilities and  create wildflower meadows, lawns, a mini wetland, a mini-forest, and paths lined with wildlife-friendly plants making a “coastal eco-park” alongside artworks, social and activity spaces.

But, more than two years on from that exhibition of plans, GRASS say they are still waiting for the town deal funding and Stephen has resigned from the board due to “a loss of confidence in its effectiveness and the actions of the regeneration officers.”

The organisation has been waiting for the outstanding balance of £475,000 funding. Last summer an initial £25,000 Early Development Funding was released and in September Grass appointed Bell Phillips Architects for the project.

Stephen says an assurance was given by the council’s director of regeneration that the main grant would be released in October but this did not happen.

Work on the site has been funded ‘in-house’ by Grass (Photo via The Oval Bandstand FB page)

In a statement Grass says: “We were forced to halt our progress due to the lack of a grant agreement by the end of October 2022. It was a challenging and frustrating situation, especially considering the significant progress we had made and the enthusiasm of the talented architects working on the project.

“Despite the setback, we managed to accomplish RIBA stage 1 and appoint a chartered surveyor to conduct a thorough measured survey of the bandstand. This would have allowed us to initiate comprehensive cost estimations and detailed architectural planning required for the upcoming RIBA stages 2 and 3 of the project and would have also allowed us to apply for match funding.”

One of the sticking points has been the signing of the grant agreement.

Thanet council says until the agreement has been signed it will not be possible to transfer any further public funds to the organisation.

But Stephen says the contract contains clauses about publicity which are one-sided in favour of the council and a non-disclosure agreement – gagging order- is required.

He said: “We want the publicity to be reciprocal so we would both need to sign anything off.” He added that the NDA has prompted his town deal board resignation, saying:  “Being subjected to gag orders would significantly impact my ability to participate on the town board. The limitation on expressing my opinions and concerns is contrary to the principles of transparency, accountability, and open dialogue.”

(Photo via The Oval Bandstand FB page)

In a statement by Grass it says legal advice from two lawyers supports the position that the contract clauses are unduly burdensome.

It adds: “We raise the question of why TDC is so insistent on retaining these minor publicity clauses, as it should not be an issue for them to address our request to make them reciprocal, which is all we have been asking for.”

Grass has been forging ahead with works at The Oval but says the delays in funding mean the project is now on hold.

Stephen said: “We have done about 3,000 hours on the project and have funded it inhouse. Everything we have done has been with zero support from the council.”

Stephen says there are also issues with funds not being released for revenue costs, such as administration, even though he says there should be 7% of the money available for this and anger that the council is now proposing a due diligence process when this was already completed when the group took on the bandstand.

Outdoor cinema at The Oval Lawns Photo John Horton

Thanet council says the grant is for capital works only although Grass argue that money has been used by the authority to appoint officers, including a coastal wellbeing role, which they say is revenue spend.

Grass says: “Regrettably, due to the council’s delay in finalising a grant agreement, which ideally, given our project programme, should have been ready for signing in September 2022, our project faced an indefinite hold.

“This unfortunate turn of events not only disrupted the workflow of the award-winning architects but also jeopardised the opportunity to breathe new life into a neglected asset in one of the most socially and economically deprived areas in the UK.

“The architect’s exceptional work, which held the promise of creating an incredible regeneration project, has been brought to a standstill. It is disheartening that, due to the inaction of TDC, this project will no longer proceed, leaving us deeply disappointed.”

Grass says the concern is that Thanet council may be looking for grounds to deem the bandstand project ‘unviable’ and then “reallocate our project funds elsewhere, potentially to their own projects facing funding shortfalls due to inflation.”

Stephen says The Oval project will continue but” by obtaining funding from elsewhere.”

He claims other community projects under the town deal are also facing “significant challenges in securing revenue funding and receiving adequate support.”

Awaiting signed agreement

In response Thanet council says: “The council is currently awaiting the return of a signed grant agreement from GRASS, which is needed in order to transfer the funding required to progress with delivery of the project.

“This is a standard part of the process set out by the government to ensure that any organisation or third party, in receipt of public funds, has the relevant financial due diligence and governance structures in place.

“Until this agreement has been signed it will not be possible to transfer any further public funds to the organisation, over and above the £25,000 of early capital funding already received.

“This is the process being followed with each of the projects that are being delivered by a third party within the Margate Town Deal and is in place to safeguard public money.”

Bob Porter, Director of Place added: “A tremendous amount of work is going into the development of the Margate Town Deal and the ambitious suite of projects in place to enhance the community in Margate. This is a long-term programme for the improvement of the town, to be delivered between now and March 2026.

“We have been in regular contact with GRASS and explained the processes that are required. We are as keen as they are to see this project through to fruition. When it comes to public spending, it’s critical that we have the necessary safeguards in place, to protect everyone involved.

“GRASS remains a part of the wider Town Deal programme and I hope that we can work together positively to see this project through.”

The proposed investment into the Oval Bandstand and Lawns is part of £3.55m allocated for projects along the Cliftonville coastline, including the delivery of a Skatepark, improvements to accessibility to Walpole Bay by refurbishing the lift and the steps and providing facilities into Walpole Bay.

Thanet council says there are outline designs for the Skatepark site, and a design team has been engaged to develop the proposals for new beach facilities at Walpole Bay.

The projects

Margate Winter Gardens

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

Some £300,000 has been allocated from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.

The initial Town Deal bid included a £4million allocation for works to the historic venue but this fell down when the government Department for Levelling Up – which issued the funding – asked for more detail on long-term plans which could not be supplied.

The council has appointed consultants Counterculture to put together a night time economy review and strategy for the district, and explore options for the future of the Winter Gardens.

All options for either lease arrangements, operator agreement or sale for the venue are being kept open.

In March a proposal to take the first steps to appoint a specialist to launch a marketing campaign was agreed.

A report to councillors said an immediate cost of £2.5m is needed for structural , building and mechanical and electrical works with a further £3.5m estimated over the next 10 years and total costs estimated at £6.25m.

The detailed marketing pack will be aimed at securing an organisation to refurbish, improve, maintain and operate the venue for uses that could include a concert hall, theatre, event spaces or leisure and tourism uses.

The Grade II listed building hosted its last performance on August 7 last year during the Margate Soul Festival before the lease was returned to Thanet council by Your Leisure and the doors were shut in readiness for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.

Theatre Royal

Theatre Royal Photo Ian Grundy

There is a £2m allocation for the Theatre Royal project. The Town Investment Plan states this will be used to improve the Theatre Royal and surrounding environment, to create a new hub of theatrical production.

Plans for the future of Margate’s Theatre Royal include marketing it with neighbouring 19 Hawley Square so facilities for food and drink can be created.

Theatre Royal closed its doors in April last year.  A costed condition survey by Lee Evans Partnership carried out in 2021 reveals the theatre requires £2 million of necessary improvements to bring it up to modern standards, with £370,000 of this identified as urgent.

Thanet council says it is “seen as a five year project.”

The first stage of works will be to complete urgent works costing £370,000 for minor roof repairs, removal of the asbestos stage curtain, and fire protection measures and the provision of a proper ventilation system.

Once the urgent works have been completed, the next step will be to complete other structure works including; window repairs and decorations, plastering in lime plaster where plaster has failed, and ceiling repairs to the value of £400,000.

It is the second oldest working theatre in the country and has 465 seats. The building  has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2018.

Margate Skatepark

Nic Powley and Dan Cates at the pop-up in 2022

Earmarked for the former putting green at Ethelbert Terrace with an allocation of £750,000 in town deal funding, £100,000 from artist Tracey Emin and £59,000 from Thanet council.

Headed by Nic Powley and Dan Cates, from Margate Skateboard Club, the plan is for the skate park and a kiosk with the kiosk having a hub for staff of the CIC to support community engagement activities and deliver health and wellbeing programmes.

Income from the kiosk will be used to maintain the toilets and the Skatepark, covering running and maintenance costs.

Following the approval of the Business Case in November 2022, the team are further developing the design of the skatepark, and preparing a Planning application.

Dreamland

Dreamland

A £4million allocation from the Margate Town Deal fund for Dreamland will be used towards the renovation and reopening the cinema building which has been empty for more than a decade.

The site will be turned into an entertainment and conference centre with space allocated to community use.

The allocation has caused controversy with some questioning why the privately owned business is receiving public funds. The Dreamland estate was sold by Thanet council to park operator Sands Heritage Ltd in 2020 for £7million – £2.3 million for the Dreamland estate and £4.7million to buy the car park area

The Town Deal Fund asks for private sector investment to match fund the public investment

Margate Creative Land Trust

Allocated £6 9m.

The aim is for the Trust to provide physical workspace at affordable rates for creative practitioners such as people working in design, music, publishing, architecture, film, gaming, crafts, visual arts, fashion, TV and radio, advertising, literature, computer games and the performing arts.

It will take on underused or empty properties through outright purchase of freehold properties or long leases, or through properties gifted or transferred to the Trust by public or private partners.

These will be used as affordable commercial space for creative industries and support services.

Since establishing charity status in April 2022, the MCLT has  recruited a Board of trustees who work on a voluntary basis for the Trust.  Formal Board structures and decision-making processes have been agreed and a property sub-committee is now in operation.

Decisions regarding the acquisition of properties in Margate are currently being discussed.

Funds from the MTD have been allocated for the initial set up of operations, such as creating a website and social media accounts, purchasing the website URL; advertising vacancies and HR administration.

The land trust has recruited a part-time Community Engagement and Communications manager on a 2-year fixed-term contract and aims to have a team of five part-time employees by the end of 2023.

It has hired in the services of an independent arts research company to carry out research into the needs and requirements of the creative businesses and individuals living and/or working in Margate, and in April 2023 launched a Creative Spaces Survey.

Access Walpole

Walpole lift (Photo TDC)

£1.1m allocated for improvements to the tidal pool and surrounds, the steps, and reinstatement of the cliff lift plus the area in the immediate vicinity will be developed to include facilities such as a cafe or kiosk.

Outreach and highways

£900k for outreach/education programmes

£5.3m highway/public realm schemes

Thanet council has been asked for an update on projects and an outline of Town Deal spending to date.

44 Comments

  1. Thanet Council please please please give the Cliftonville area and its people a break and release the funds 😡

  2. So the embarrassment for Thanet residents continues.
    A new administration but same old issues with same old mentors who gained their skills from the previous CEO.

    Could the new inexperienced councillors be heading down the same route as many of the previous councillors. Lack of trust by residents. The first lesson on how to be honest the 2nd how to manage residents finances.

    With luck we could find Thanet council placed into administration with those councillors without experience being asked to attend training sessions organised by outside experienced teachers.

  3. The area is boarded up most of the time unless there is an event. It’s very frustrating that we can’t use this community facility unless a few self appointed people say so. It looks like a prison most of the time. The way they treated the Farmers Market was appalling too

    • Agree 100%.
      Their treatment of the previous group & the farmers’ market was appalling.
      They seem to like to use the legal profession, even sending a threatening solicitors letter to the manager of the farmers market in August 2021, when GRASS cancelled their market, accusing them of running an illegal event for the 20 years they had been operating for the community. This was all proven to be incorrect when the group took out a Freedom of Information request. They were of course doing everything legally, as one would expect from a community group.
      This article is not about any previous problems with TDC, but about the GRASS group & the 16 year old bandstand plus the half a million pounds allocated to it. For what?

      • This money should have gone to the winter gardens that is more important to Thanet the bandstand was rebuilt by the cliftonville residents associated with TDC no need to give that kind of money that’s turning into a private club but not the community as a whole as it was previously before the appalling treatment of the farmers market it comes around I didn’t think the lawns were supposed to be sold to private investors it’s always been public land for more than 200 years

  4. When I first moved to Thanet over thirty years ago I was made aware that TDC had the dubious reputation of having been investigated on mor occasions for embezzlement than any other non-metropolitan council in the country.
    Given what’s been happening over the past few years, I think it high time that Constabulary undertakes a very thorough investigation into the former and current Executive. It’s appointments and contracts.

    • The satirical magazine “Private Eye” has a column entitled “Rotten Boroughs”. Every fortnight, we can read of the misdeeds and dubious goings on of Local Authorities the length and breadth of the land.
      TDC has not featured for decades.

      • Hislop is hardly an accredited member of a Constabulary.
        Look at all the shenanigans a few years ago with Tesco, Freshwater/Deajan and the Arlington Arcade.
        They’re long overdue a visit. Particularly given the opportunity that their move to the former Broadstairs campus presents to conveniently misplace or dispose of paperwork.

        • The Tesco development by Tesco would have been a great asset to the town one or two residents living on Arlington house and one hotelier objected to the development it went to the high court in London where they eventually lost the case nothing to do with TDC it did go to planning was approved for development now it’s sitting derilict it’s not always TDCs fault and elected members.

  5. Absolutely disgraceful what is our new labour council doing?
    What next the skatepark? After all when the previous head of the council under labour Iris Johnson was in power she bulldozed the make shift skate park at little oasis. All these officers need to be held to account the oval is part of our community

    • I was not the Leader at TDC when the little Oasis was removed on Health and safety grounds on instructions from the Chief Executive who would have been personally liable if anyone was injured. Corporate manslaughter.

      I was as a Cabinet member involved in ensuring we had a ske park in Westgate,Broadstairs and Ramsgate. I also supported the plans for one in Hartsdown park but Labour lost control of TDC efore that was realised. I always supported a skatepark in Cliftonville and had looked at land in front of the Caprice. Our Labour administration upgraded numerous play areas which also came u dear my portfolio. I don’t know Pippa but I’m more than happy to meet her to discuss any matter.

      • The trouble is a lot of the people who post comments, have little idea of what has happened in Cliftonville over the last 25 years.
        Particularly regarding the Oval Bandstand.
        Iris Johnston always supported events there.
        I have lived in Cliftonville for many years.

        • Like the top green (that was) in dalby square given to the residents association to look after under a legal agreement. Which the council then tore up and handed the green to the social provider that built the houses now on it. TDC cynically knowing that the residents association had no means to take legal action.
          And as aprt of the heritage grant scheme , tdc made sure that it got every penny and a bit more of what it put in to do the maintenance it should have been doing over the years. The new wall round the square and railings cost 400k.

      • Totally agree iris you weren’t leader at the time you worked hard for cliftonville and Margate it was found to be unsafe people should look at the facts instead of kicking off I believe the skate park will go ahead iris all councillors get the blame if any decision made is not what moaners want they kick off.

  6. Why do so many men have scruffy beards and washed-out looking clothing these days? There really is no need for it.

    • Cost of living crisis cannot afford soap and shampoo, or enough leccy to iron clothing, mind you a lot of women like it too,this is all said in jest,before fruitcakes start writing in , people with no sense of humour I mean

  7. GRASS suffer the sad realisation which the majority of us already had. Welcome to TDC, they do things differently there…

  8. Happy when they get free money but moan about spending there own.
    Still can’t understand how they get there prices. Surely could get all that done for less than half that if they wanted, but it’s free so pump up the cost

  9. Something I have never been able to understand, so maybe someone can tell me. How can an acting member of a board, become a recipient of a large grant for their group?
    Is this not a ‘conflict of interest’?

    • I agree. How can when he was a member of the board get such a huge amount of money.

    • Same at Dreamland too. £4 million allocated to the private business when Eddie Kemsley Dreamland Boss was a board member. We all said the MTD board should not be run by business and council members as of conflicts of interest but they did it anyway and awarded themselves this government funding to improve the town. Nothing seems to change at TDC with their gagging orders instead of transparency, which is one reason why they receive so much negativity and loss of trust by the residents of Thanet.
      Will the public ever see all the MTD money spent on the projects agreed on or will it all be squandered on red tape as it often is?

      • And no member of any community group, sitting on the MTDB should be a recipient of a huge sum of money from Government grants.

    • They gifted the GRASS group, the 4 acre site, bandstand, kiosk & toilet block at no charge, except for their crowd funded solicitors fees.
      They own it, what was a public site.

      • It is STILL a public area, read the agreement it’s available on line?. If the uneducated spread false/misleading comments often enough residents begin to believe.

        Most now believe the Moon is flat, don’t they?

      • So another private business expecting free government town deal money through TDC after sitting on the board of trustees long enough to divert a large amount to their own project ? yep, not surprised he is resigning from the trust now he has the offer secured.

  10. Town Deal cash, Levelling Up cash. Too many people who have served on these boards have then been the recipients of huge sums of cash for their respective organisations.

    This is a once in a generation chance to invest in Thanet to this extent. Please keep the scrutiny on the Council to make sure the money is being spent as intended and that there are no conflict of interests.

    It’s not off to a great start tbh.

    • The question of a conflict of interest was put to the Board at the time when a chap was sacked from the furtive Peoples Panel – I believe for having the temerity to suggest that monies spent on Dreamland would have been better spent on the WG (which should have a future as a conference/exhibition centre, not least for model railways etc so beloved by middle-aged men with wallets according to a TV documentary a couple of years back which saw a crowded NEC Birmingham). No response of course but it goes to help explain the declining faith in the Board – and to be fair Margate is only one example of delivery failure across the country. You will have noticed the original over wieldy Board has been shrinking : despite the strong Departmental recommendation that ‘Education’ should be an ‘anchor component’ we now have none such, we lost our ‘youth member’ fairly recently who is unreplaced and now a real live ‘grassroots’ entrepreneur representing the most deprived ward in the South East (who of course would always have had a declared interest.) Maybe no one in his disillusion is keen on becoming a ‘nodding donkey’ rubberstamping the pre-ordained railway lines – whatever happened to the ‘sub committees’ M Homer originally promised years ago – a forked tongue there ?
      The Margate School is organising a 3rd Regeneration Conference for late October which will include a presentation from the Secretary to the Left Behind All Party Parliamentary Group who have made proposals as to how the levelling up omnishambles may be radically rethought and readers will be interested in attending (free of course !) For sure our corner of the green and pleasant remains firmly ‘left behind’but could yet serve as a role model for other coastal communities ‘On the Edge’ (per a recent report on such.)

  11. Grass’s treatment of the farmers market was abysmal, but having to sign an NDA with TDC does raise questions of transparency if the group wants to be accountable to the local community. What does the NDA cover I wonder. And why.

    • GRASS are a C.I.C. = Community Interest Company, we understand they were recruiting non executive Directors recently. We are sure that those that may have been recruited are aware that non excus. directors are also legally responsible for anything that goes wrong. Ooops?

  12. A submission was madse to the Thanet Town Deal Scritiny Panel in April regarding the second summer for an unoccupied exM&S/Store 21 building which could at least have afforded ‘creative space’ to brighten up the less than inviting Lower High Street. It is feared that East Kent College now want out because of brighter prospects elsewhere. The Scutiny Panel’s response is awaited.
    The Creative Land Trust took a year to register as a charity and a further year to appoint a Chief Exec – she will no doubt take her time to decide what to do with what is left of her £6 millions after ‘overheads’. (The Margate School took 3 months to get going.)
    The Secretary of State has been advised that the Margate Town Deal is an Object Lesson In How Not To Do it : the Left behind All Party Parliamentary Group, Public Accounts Committee and Select Committee on Levelling Up have all condemned the present ‘omnishambles’ for poor delivery and overambition. Given constraints on Whitehall one can easily envisage unspent levelling up monies being retracted (not least for bailing out the likes of Woking and Thurrock.)
    The hope is that a reinvigorated Community Wealt/Coastal Communities Fund (powered by the rental income HM gets from windform leases which he has offered up for the ‘wider public good’) will indeed involve ‘grassroots’ community initiatives in Left Behind districts for deeper and longer to ‘make a real difference’. Watch the Autumn budget for a radical rethink of the Tory ‘flagship’ !
    In the emantime the £750,000 spent on refurbishing the ex-M&S plainly ran out of funds judging by the state of the High Street doors – drawn to the attention of MTDB with photographic evidence but they are apparently not embarrassed – whatever happened to Town Pride ? !

    • Thanks for the insight, is there a central body in the whole fiasco that’s been found to be lacking or each project in itself struggled to do what it should? Wasn’t there a parting of the ways between the M&S/21 venture and TMS or have it got myself confused?

  13. The Levelling Up application for Margate Digital was made at the last minute and specifically stated that there was a partnership between EKC and TMS. The administration at the time tried to exclude Margate
    but a change saved the day (but failed to take advantage of the full amount available to each of the nominated constituencies.) A Regeneration Conference last year at TMS saw the EKC Project Director and the TMS Director affirming the Partnership though the Regeneration Officer at TDC appears to doubt her own application to the Department – the fact that a Court can infer partnership from all the circumstances (regardless of any actual written agreement as we have in this case) seems to have escaped her and that, as far as I know, is where we currently are. The suggestion is that if EKC really has got cold feet (for sound business reasons largely based on demography) then the £6 millions to come had better be redeployed pretty fast before Mr Gove reassigns the lot – including this Creative Land Trust venture which does not seem much interested in the Lower High Street as a conduit to the ‘commercial’ Upper High Street. In that context you might well ask about Andrews Passage which is going nowhere judging by its absence from Minutes.
    There are pressures mounting to rethink levelling up and its distribution – more monies for longer including revenue as well as capital expenditure concentrated on the most ‘Left Behind’ and diluting local authority delays by going more directly to ‘grassroots’ – which should please GRASS if it ever comes about !

  14. I’m always surprised that people are allowed to comment under a false name. I assume there is a reason they can’t identify themselves. I prefer things to be transparent, open and above board.

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